Everybody has ups and downs, but over the years I’ve noticed a long-term trend: I’m getting happier with age. While the unpredictable events of daily life obviously influence your state of mind at any given time, there’s definitely been a general upward trend – like the stock chart of a healthy, growing company.
The reason is hard to miss. I’ve had a career that followed pretty much the same sort of trajectory: plenty of high-frequency ups and downs but generally up and to the right over the long haul. While that’s nothing to write home about, I think you’ll find the factors behind it illuminating, if not surprising.
Maturity … sort of. When you’re young your world is small but your ego is huge so, relatively speaking, every little thing matters a lot. Growing up is about realizing you’re not such a big deal after all. When you stop taking yourself so seriously and start lightening up, life gets a lot easier. While I’m still a kid in many ways, it’s balanced by a sense of humility.
Work-hard, play-hard attitude. I used to think of my dad as a tyrant for drumming a compulsive work ethic into me every day of my life. Meanwhile my mom was pretty laid back about everything. She was a real partier. Put them together, you have me. They’ve been gone a long time, but I’m grateful every day for that strange combination. It’s a real gift.
High aspirations, low expectations. We didn’t have much growing up so pretty much anything was an improvement. And while I admit to having been a little jealous of the nicer things my friends had, rather than a handicap I used that as an incentive to work hard and strive to achieve great things. That relentless drive is critical to success.
Unquenchable thirst for knowledge and experience. I always had this insatiable hunger to learn: to explore, to figure out how things work, to know everything about everything. My parents encouraged that by buying me tons of books, although I don’t know how they kept from going nuts. I was like that annoying kid who’s always asking stuff like, “Mommy, why’s the sky blue?” I literally never shut up.
Knowing who to listen to. I’ve never been shy about asking advice of those who had achieved what I aspired to be. More importantly, I listened. Sure, I trusted my gut, but when their words really resonated with me, I acted without hesitation. That proved remarkably beneficial in choosing the right path when I was at a crossroads.
Knowing who not to listen to. Having grown up on the streets of Brooklyn, where everyone had an opinion on everything, I learned early on how full of crap most people are. So I’ve never paid attention to what anyone says about how I behave or live my life. My methods and choices are mine and nobody else’s. That’s worked out pretty well.
At peace with who I am. Life offers two distinct choices. The first is to reach for the stars. If you make it, great. If not, you have nothing to feel bad about. The second is not to go for it and spend the rest of your life beating yourself up over what you’re not and all the while wondering what could have been. Regret is a bitter pill to swallow.
What I thought you’d find counter-intuitive is that it’s all sort of work related. The reason is simple. My priority has always been to do what I love for a living so, for me, hard work has always been fun and fulfilling. That’s probably why I’m good at it. And, over time, that brought freedom, flexibility, and a good life. A happy life.
But there is a catch. It doesn’t happen overnight. One thing I noticed somewhere along the line is, the less I pressured myself in the short-term – the more I learned to let go and relax – the more successful I became over the long-term. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be in such a hurry to get to the finish line. You’ll get there soon enough.